HRW asks police to protect refugees from violence

Kathmandu, June 1:

The Human Rights Watch (HRW), a Washington-based human rights organisation, has asked the Nepali police to protect Bhutanese refugees from mob violence and ensure their right to peaceful expression.

Asking the Bhutanese refugees not to resort to violence while exercising their right to return to Bhutan, the HRW has called on Indian police to act with restraint and compassion for the refugees.

“The clashes this week resulting in two deaths in Bhutanese refugee camps underscore the need for the Nepali police to protect refugees from mob violence and ensure their right to peaceful expression,” the Human Rights Watch said in a statement today.

“Together with the rest of the international community, particularly India, these countries should bring pressure to bear on Bhutan to permit the refugees to return home with safety and dignity and to end discrimination against its ethnic Nepali citizens,” the HRW added.

“The death of a third Bhutanese refugee in a confrontation with Indian police forces this week indicates that all sides must exercise restraint before tensions escalate further with even more loss of life,” the HRW said, adding that it is concerned about the escalation of violence in the refugee camps in eastern Nepal and along the Indian border, which some refugees have been attempting to cross in a march to Bhutan.

“Nepali police need to protect the refugees and their right to peacefully express their views on resettlement or return,” said Bill Frelick, Refugee Policy director of the Human Rights Watch. “Factions of Bhutanese refugees divided over the resettlement issue should reflect on the tragic loss of these young lives and conclude that fighting each other will not solve their plight.”

Refugees or others who resort to violence and attack refugees with whom they disagree must be arrested and prosecuted by Nepali authorities, Frelick said. “At the same time, the police should avoid excessive force in maintaining order,” he added.

He said that although there is no question that Bhutanese refugees have a right to return to Bhutan, they also have the right to make choices on essential issues like resettlement without threats.

He said repatriation of Bhutanese refugees must be accompanied by the restoration of rights, and should include monitoring and assistance from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. “At present, none of the conditions that would allow them to return safely and in dignity have been met,” the HRW said.

“Groups of Bhutanese refugees should not resort to violence in exercising their right of return, and the Indian police should also act with restraint and compassion for the refugees.”

It has also asked the United States and other countries to expand an information campaign in the camps to reiterate that the choice of resettlement is voluntary and does not in any way rule out the right to return to Bhutan.

The countries offering resettlement need to provide detailed information about the rights and benefits for refugees that choose to resettle in their countries, the HRW said.